Like Normal People
By Karen Bender
(Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, Hardcover, 9780395945155, 288pp.)
Publication Date: April 2000
Other Editions of This Title: Paperback
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Karen Bender's powerfully affecting first novel has garnered remarkable early attention. Portions of the novel have been published in THE NEW YORKER, GRANTA, and STORY magazine. An excerpt chosen for THE BEST AMERICAN SHORT STORIES by Annie Proulx was recorded by Joanne Woodward and aired on NPR's SELECTED SHORTS.
A tour de force of literary craft and emotional resonance, LIKE NORMAL PEOPLE charts a family constellation that revolves around an off-kilter center: Lena, who is forty-eight but mentally locked in childhood. Moving deftly between present and past, the novel follows Lena's day-long escape from her residential home with her troubled twelve-year-old niece. While this odd couple takes refuge on a honky-tonk southern California beach, Lena’s widowed mother, Ella, goes in search of them. In the process, Ella relives her own life's dreams and disappointments: her marriage to a sweet, loving shoe salesman; her discovery of Lena's handicap and her aching attempts to give her daughter a "normal" childhood. For so long, Lena has been the focus of Ella's world. When Lena at last finds approximate normalcy -- by marrying a man much like herself -- Ella must contend with letting her daughter go.
Covering three entire lifetimes in the course of one day, LIKE NORMAL PEOPLE is tender, often hilarious, and deeply moving. Bender brilliantly enters into the consciousness of three women at very different stages of life, each on a private search for love and acceptance. LIKE NORMAL PEOPLE is a novel about desire, about what constitutes normality, and, most poignantly, about the ways in which a family finds its strength in the face of adversity.
Karen E. Bender's first novel excerpts have been published in THE NEW YORKER, GRANTA, and STORY magazines. The chapter "Eternal Love" was chosen by Annie Proulx to appear in THE BEST AMERICAN SHORT STORIES 1997, and was read by Joanne Woodward to a sold-out crowd at Symphony Space in New York; the recording of that reading aired on NPR's SELECTED SHORTSS. Bender also received a prestigious Rona Jaffe Foundation Writers' Award based on a draft of this novel, and it was recently optioned for TV movie development. Picador will publish the novel in England. Bender's fiction has appeared in the IOWA REVIEW and the KENYON REVIEW and has been reprinted in PUSHCART PRIZE XVIII and other anthologies. A graduate of the Iowa Writers' Workshop, she lives in New York with her husband, the writer Robert Anthony Siegel, and their son.
For a debut novel, there is much to praise: the characters who breathe life into the pages, warm settings, the nostalgia of growing up.
LIKE NORMAL PEOPLE is an uplifting and bittersweet testament to uncompromising love.--The New York Post
this first novel is rendered in delicate yet indelible prose.--Portland Oregonian
"What an amazing novel; the complexities, imperfections and triumphs of Karen Bender's extraordinary characters will keep you rapt from start to finish. You'll love this book." -- Meg Wolitzer, author of SURRENDER, DOROTHY and FRIENDS FOR LIFE.
"Like Normal People is funny and heartbreaking on every page, so smart, so beautiful, so real...it's a rare book that's this brave, and this moving."--Elizabeth McCracken, author of THE GIANT'S HOUSE and HERE'S YOUR HAT WHAT'S YOUR HURRY
"Karen Bender is already a writer of great skill and sensitivity. The quality of this book, its true sense of humanity, reminded me of Anne Tyler, Barbara Kingsolver, the best of modern authors." --Joanne Woodward
Bender's is the prose of an accomplished writer with a keen eye The Chicago Tribune
thanks to the marvelously feisty and funny Ella and Lena, it's a bantamweight worth picking up this spring.
The Wall Street Journal
It is a remarkably complex work that attempts to explore the lives of three different people in one day.
The Baltimore Sun
"To all of this, Bender brings a calm and intelligent eye. If this were a movie, there would no doubt be a lesson to learn about the beauty of innocence, with Lena's pure soul pitted against the wider world's meanness and uniformity. Bender goes for something more complex and far more rewarding: She shows how love and sadness can co- exist in a world where normalcy is elusive, and where strength emerges in surprising ways." The San Francisco Chronicle
Bender has crafted a luminous, meditative novel on the boundaries between childhood, adulthood, and old age.
Bender deserves the recognition for her keen ability to depict the interplay among family members, particularly between Ella and Lena.
Cleveland Plain Dealer
"Some first novelists arrive on the scene already so proficient it's hard to believe that we are reading their debut effort. This is true of Bender, whose remarkable narrative of three generations of women has the wisdom of mature insight and the grace of empathy and understanding...Bender's subtle humor, her understanding of a parent's need to offer protective love and her tolerant view of human nature infuse the story with universality. In the end, this heartwarming novel dealing with societal misfits, family relationships and loss is all about flawed human beings, 'normal' and not." Publishers Weekly, Starred